Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Burned body still an unsolved murder mystery in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — Residents made a gruesome discovery in the alley behind their homes late one night four months ago, leaving police with this mystery:

How did the charred body of 19-year-old Michael Anthony Tillman end up in a burning trash bin?

At the time, police said that Tillman was murdered before he was set on fire. They didn't say much more. It remained an unsolved murder.

Now St. Petersburg detectives think they've pieced together what happened to Tillman and how he ended up in the alley behind Ninth Avenue S on Jan. 31.

But in doing so, police also discovered that they might not be able to arrest whoever killed him.

That's because Tillman may have been shot dead during the attempted home invasion of a drug house, according to St. Petersburg police Maj. Mike Puetz. "Someone inside the house, probably defending themselves, fired a gun," Puetz said.

Tillman died of a gunshot wound, police say. During the alleged home invasion robbery, police believe, his accomplices fled, leaving him behind.

The shooter, police theorize, then got rid of the body by setting it afire. "We're not sure if that's to conceal identity," Puetz said, "or just a message of some sort."

Tillman's first arrest was at age 16 for firing a weapon into a dwelling. He was arrested twice in the days leading up to his death — for marijuana possession on Jan. 3 and for cocaine possession just eight days before he died. His family declined to comment Wednesday.

Police acknowledge they haven't pieced together the whole story behind his death. Investigators believe they know where the home invasion took place and who the shooter might be, though they would not make that information public.

They don't have enough evidence to arrest that person, Puetz said. Police say they need more information to make their case. But another problem is whether there's a case to make. That's because if Tillman was shot dead during the commission of a crime — even if the shooter was engaged in illegal activities — the shooter still has the right of self-defense.

"We couldn't charge him with murder when people are actually trying to break into his house," Puetz said.

But that doesn't mean no one would be held responsible for Tillman's death.

Under the felony murder statute, anyone participating in a crime that results in death can be charged with murder — even when it's an accomplice who is killed.

But just building that kind of criminal case will be difficult, the major said. "There's not a whole lot of motivation for anyone involved in this scenario to step forward and cooperate with the police," Puetz said. "There's not a good citizen involved in any of this stuff."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at or (727) 893-8472.

Burned body still an unsolved murder mystery in St. Petersburg 06/10/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 10, 2009 11:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa Bay Super Bowls: A brief history and some predictions for 2021


    At last, Tampa will host a Super Bowl again. It used to be that the Cigar City would host one a decade, but by the time February 2021 rolls around, it will have been 12 years since the epic showdown between the Steelers and Cardinals. Because it has been awhile, let's revisit those past Super Bowls while also peering …

    Santonio Holmes hauls in the game-winning touchdown in the Steelers' 27-23 Super Bowl XLIII victory over the Cardinals in 2009, the last time Tampa hosted a Super Bowl. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
  2. Rays bats go silent in second straight loss to Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Sure, Alex Cobb was to blame for the Rays' 4-0 loss on Tuesday.

    Derek Norris strikes out with the bases loaded as the Rays blow a golden opportunity in the seventh inning.
  3. Analysis: Manchester attack was exactly what many had long feared


    LONDON — For Britain's security agencies, London always seemed like the likely target. For years, the capital of 8 million with hundreds of thousands of weekly tourists and dozens of transit hubs had prepared for and feared a major terror attack.

  4. Dade City man dies after crashing into county bus, troopers say

    Public Safety

    ZEPHYRHILLS — A 38-year-old man died Tuesday after colliding into the rear of a county bus on U.S. 301, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

  5. Suspicious device at Pinellas Park home was a spent artillery round, police say

    Public Safety

    PINELLAS PARK — Bomb squad investigators determined that a "suspicious device" found at a Pinellas Park home Tuesday afternoon was a spent artillery round, police said.